(Corrects proposed poll date in second paragraph)
* Polls considered last step in return to civilian rule
* Dispute risks further delaying elections
By Saliou Samb
CONAKRY, Feb 24 (Reuters) - Guinea’s opposition coalition has withdrawn from preparations for long-delayed legislative polls and may stage nationwide protests, claiming the run up to the vote has been flawed, an opposition spokesman said on Sunday.
The election set for May 12 is intended to be the last step in the West African country’s transition to civilian rule after two years under a violent army junta following the death of long-time leader Lansana Conte in 2008.
President Alpha Conde won a 2010 presidential election, but delays in the legislative vote have deepened a political deadlock and led to intermittent violence.
“We have all decided purely and simply to pull out of the electoral process to avoid supporting an elections masquerade,” said Aboubacar Sylla, spokesman for the opposition coalition.
The opposition says the elections commission chose the poll date unilaterally and that two companies contracted to update voter rolls have skewed the lists in Conde’s favour. They also want Guineans living abroad to be allowed to vote.
“If, despite our withdrawal, the regime persists in organising the legislatives in the current conditions, we will bring forward and intensify protests so the government finally hears the voice of the people,” Sylla said, stopping short of declaring a boycott of the polls.
Thousands of people participated in peaceful protests across Guinea last week in support of opposition demands.
Mouctar Diallo - president of the NFD, one of the principal opposition parties - confirmed the decision.
Government spokesman Damantang Albert Camara called the move a tactic that risked making the May 12 poll date untenable.
“We’re struck by the contradiction in the opposition’s decision not to participate in the electoral process while affirming it will not boycott the legislatives,” said Camara. “That could obviously affect the calendar initially planned.”
The parliamentary poll was originally due to be held in 2011 but has already been delayed four times.
Conde has promised prosperity to the former French colony’s 10 million people, whose economy produces only about $1.50 per person per day despite a wealth of natural resources, including the world’s largest untapped iron ore deposit.
The European Union, a major donor, warned in November that it needed a credible and detailed timeline for the election to unblock about 174 million euros ($229 million) in aid.
Donors want a vote that is inclusive, free and fair. Conde, who spent decades as one of the leading figures opposing Lansana Conte’s regime, needs a smooth vote to entrench his legitimacy.
“We will no longer participate in the setting up of the administrative commissions revising the voter rolls,” Sylla said, adding that he expected opposition representatives on the elections commission to step down as well. ($1 = 0.7598 euros) (Writing by Joe Bavier; Editing by Jason Webb)